Heal thy partner
As a couple therapist for some time now, if anyone asks me what the common issues couples face are, I have only one answer. The couple doesn’t take care of each other’s traumatised part and without knowing, becomes a trigger for that traumatised hurting part.
Every human being I have come across has had some kind of trauma, and mostly in his or her early years. A trauma is defined as a response to any distressing single or ongoing event experienced by a person in their early years or adult life. It can vary from child sexual abuse, parents’ toxic marriage, bullying in school or loss of a loved one amongst others.
How the child responds to that trauma is by fragmenting itself between a functional part and a traumatised part. Even a single event can cause this dissociation and it happens because the self doesn’t want to feel any pain. This functional part grows up to be the self that you take to work, that socialises with friends, starts relationships and appears happy to avoid anything that can make it feel pain. It’s also the part when asked about an early year trauma replies, “It wasn’t all that bad.”
Then there is the traumatised part that still feels as if the trauma is ongoing as it was never processed when it needed to be. This part—the minute it gets triggered—responds in any way that can prevent it from feeling the overwhelming pain. For example, an adult who went through child abuse will have a healthy adult intimate life but if a random stranger in a public place touches, he will react very badly to it. Because the traumatised wounded part hasn’t healed.
We carry these traumatised parts into our marriage or relationships. We are not even aware of these traumatised parts because our functional parts have taken over and say, “it’s all good.” Now if the partner in any way triggers that trauma, the functional part can ignore it and say it’s ok, but the traumatised part will respond to that trigger blindly as if the actual traumatic event has started.
Initially in a relationship, during the honeymoon period, the triggers might be less as the individual is still learning to trust the other person and whether the relationship is safe or not. Thus, it is the functional part that is more dominant and is more friendly and compromising.
But actually, as time passes and one feels more safety in a relationship is when the possibility of triggers are more. This might sound confusing, but in reality trauma makes us feel unsafe doesn’t it? And we continue to live our life expecting unsafety in the real world. But if we are lucky and we experience safety in a relationship; that’s when the traumatised part feels most scared. It doesn’t know how to trust this safety.
The trigger can look like this. Your partner wants to share something and is very emotional about it. You dismiss it by telling her that she is overreacting. The functional part knows it’s overreacting, but the traumatised part remembers all that time during childhood when she was dismissed by the parent and not heard.
You provide a solution to the problem. The traumatised part cannot move on with this simple solution. It needs to experience that you are there for it even when it acts out, gets angry, cries or throws a tantrum because that’s protest against the trauma and not an attack on you.
Remember that it’s the traumatised part that is upset. So rather than dismissing it by saying be grateful and move on, go ahead and give a hug and tell her you are there for her. That she doesn’t need to justify her emotions and you are there to hold her. That’s all it takes for the healing to start. To know that there is the other to take care for that traumatised part.
Don’t always react to your partners’ emotional unreasonable behaviours as an attack on you. In most cases, it’s their own internal trigger of feeling traumatised and all that is required is for you to walk your way and say, “its alright. I am here to help in healing its pain.”
You heal each other’s wounded parts by first acknowledging that they exist in each other. By learning more about them and allowing your partner to express all that he or she went through. To not jump into dismissing their pain by saying it’s over now and move on.
Emotional pain hurts more than physical pain as it’s invisible and at times, one doesn’t know how to justify it himself. Don’t hurt but heal each other and have a healthy loving relationship.